Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Combiner Wars Megatron

Considering that Combiner Wars Optimus Prime - based on the Motormaster mold - is a combiner torso, one would surely expect his Decepticon counterpart to perform the same function but, for the moment, at least, Megatron is his own standalone robot without any gestalt potential. Even stranger, Combiner Wars Cyclonus becomes the torso of Galvatronus, at once keeping in the tradition of Cyclonus being partnered with Galvatron (no hints yet of a CW Scourge, but they'd probably just churn it out as another repaint of either Alpha Bravo or Firefly, going by what we've seen of things to come in 2016), while irreversibly separating Galvatron from Megatron.

So... here we have the G1 version of a new tank-based Megatron (Hasbro losing points for originality straight off the bat, not even taking into account the almost immediate Armada repaint)... How does he stack up against the myriad others out there..?

Vehicle Mode:
The first thing that hits you is how extensively silver painted this tank is... The only other TransFormers toy I can remember seeing with a similarly extensively coating of argent was the similarly-sized Galaxy Force Master Galvatron, but even that has some unpainted surfaces. Of course, no military tank would ever be without its camouflage paint so, however awesome this looks, it doesn't look right. And with such a massive amount of silver paint, it comes as no surprise that he's pretty much devoid of any other paintwork in this mode. All you get is black paint over the virtually invisible view port just under the cannon at the front, a couple of patches of red on the top of the turret, and a Decepticon insignia.

What he lacks in paint colour variation, he more than makes up for in sheer detail. This is a quite elaborately molded tank, with more than just the usual panel lines. The sides of the tank are dotted which what I can only assume are reactive armour panels, and the entire thing is dotted with all kinds of other unidentifiable lumps and bumps. Much of the detail is symmetrical, but the top of the turret has unique detailing on each side, including a fixed hatch on the left.

Like any self-respecting tank, Megatron's turret turns and, for once, the centre of rotation seems to be in pretty much the right point on the turret, and mounted on pretty much the right part of the tank body, so it never looks totally unbalanced. The gun itself is at a fixed angle due to the way it connects to Megatron's arm and the fact that the barrel collapses into the bulkier part of the gun means there was no easy way to allow just the protruding end of the barrel to tilt upward. While the turret's rotation is fairly rigid in its ratcheting, in between notches, the turret can wobble about quite a bit, and the back end can be lifted up quite a way. Pull it high enough, and it trips one of the robot mode's shoulder ratchets, resulting in the entire turret pointing downward while still being about to rotate through about 300°.

Just for a change, this tank sits quite high off the ground due to having an unrealistically shallow body. In another break from the norm when it comes to TransFormers tanks, Megatron actually has rolling treads - truly the Holy Grail of TransFormers toys. OK, granted, he's technically an H-Tank because he had two sets of treads on each side, but when a toy has fully rolling rubber treads wrapped around wheels (three rolling, one fixed in each set), I don't think anyone is going to complain that they're not perfect... though I'm sure it would have been possible to have each pair of treads connect up once fully transformed, with minimal alteration to the rubber parts and an only marginally increased risk of losing the treads under your sofa.

Megatron manages to look a bit ropey at the back, largely due to certain elements of transformation which leave his robot mode crotch plate filling what would otherwise be a gaping void between the rear treads. That said, this is hardly the worst rear view of a TransFormers tank you're ever likely to see. Though the robot's fists are a little obvious peeking out from the back of the turret...

Along with the main cannon - which features the almost ubiquitous spring-loaded missile - Megatron comes packaged with two additional weapons which can be plugged in separately at the rear of the turret. The larger of the two weapons is obvious enough, but the smaller one is of indeterminate purpose... other than plugging into the back of the larger one to make it slightly longer...

Bizarrely, this new version of Megatron comes equipped with four Mini-Con ports - two on the front, one on the turret, one right at the back - which is unexpected given that Mini-Cons have been rather rare since the dying days of the Cybertron/Galaxy Force toyline, and their popularity was waning even during Energon, when the idea of five-part gestalts first popped back into the designers' collective consciousness. Granted, the most recent Mini-Con team to appear on shelves was the Generations 'Thrilling 30' Mini-Con Assault Team, but there's be no word of a reintroduction of Mini-Cons beyond the Legends class 'TargetMaster' analogues... I guess these Mini-Con ports were primarily to service the Armada Megatron repaint/retooling of this mold...

Megatron makes for quite a hefty tank, certainly far bigger than the average contemporary Voyager in tank mode, though somehow not quite Leader class in feel. I do applaud Hasbro, however, for making a TransFormer tank this large without feeling the need to shoehorn in electronic lights and sounds. I'm sure it could have been done, with a small speaker in a slightly bulkier front part of the tank, and batteries stored either in the arms or in the front tread sections. Bravo to you, Hasbro, for exercising such restraint.

Robot Mode:
Standing at about 9"/23cm tall, this is very much the 'new Leader class', in much the same way as the 'new Masterpiece line' is running a lot shorter than the earliest models. Still, 9" still gives you a hell of a lot of Megatron, and I don't think we've ever had anything that's quite so G1 cartoon accurate as this.

The extensive coating of silver covers most of robot mode, though there's now quite a bit of other colour to break it up - the traditional red panels on his inner forearms, red on the elbow, yellow shoulder lights, purple concave robo-nipples and all the waist-level tech details alluded to by his G1 stickers and the ancient animation model.

I'm in two minds about his overall look... On the one hand, there are loads of cool throwbacks to G1 Megatron, including molded details on the tops of his shoulders that mimic the hammer from his old handgun mode (though this is rather lost due to having nothing but silver paint in that area) and the outer sides of his lower legs are designed to look like the grip of a gun. On the other hand, the upper part of his torso is just way too large, with his shoulder joints ending up at roughly the middle of his chest (though there's good reason for that - on which subject, more later...) and the arms are obviously just chunks of tank turret - not even bending the elbows really disguises that fact. In spite of all the molded detail, his silhouette is very boxy and square-looking. Curiously, they've also elected to reference the current IDW Comics version of Megatron, in that his front treads end up on his back. This is probably the largest bit of wasted bulk on the entire body, and while it doesn't look terrible, I can't help thinking something better could have been done... Though perhaps that would have required the sacrifice of the rolling treads...

Naturally, this being a heavily G1-influenced Megatron, he has his arm-mounted cannon. Since it's made out of the tank's cannon, it can be oriented with the spring-loaded missile pointing out of the front, and it's this orientation that is indicated by the photos on the box. However, it's mounted on a rotation joint on the end of a short hinged platform, so it an also be turned around for a more 'Early Marvel Comics Design' look, with the end that almost succeeds in looking like a telescopic gun sight, thanks to some familiar molded features, facing forward.

Weirdly, the robot mode's molded details are not limited to those features you can see when he's fully transformed. Pull his torso plate up, and a strange, Unicron-style chompy-dome thing is revealed right on his belly, with a couple of other details, either of which could represent a spark chamber, higher up.

Among all the G1-ish features of this mold, the head sculpt is probably the best... though still not a perfect representation of ol' Bucket Head. The proportions are certainly better than those of Masterpiece Megatron but, due to the way the chest transforms, the back of the head still seems too flat. The face isn't quite so squinty or angry-looking as the MP version - the eyes are proportionally larger and light-piped. There is something about the way the piece is molded that means more light tends to come through around the edges of his eyes rather than in the central part such that, for quite a while, I thought the eyes had been given a dark translucent paint wash... Given this issue, I almost found myself wishing for a battery-operated light feature in his head...

Last and least among his G1 features is the inclusion of a small sticker sheet. This includes a set of Autobot insignias as well as Decepticon, in case you feel like going the whole IDW Autobot Megatron route, as well as a set of lines to place on his cannon (just in front of that raised circular detail in line with the cannon's red mounting piece) and some G1-toy referencing filigree... Unfortunately useless because the stickers are printed on plain white rather than silver or chrome paper, or clear plastic.

There are two things that really stick out in CW Megatron's transformation. Firstly, the way his arms transform into the tank's turret is pretty much the same as Galaxy Force Backgild, in that the arms are connected to a central barrel which does the rotation. It's a very clever system allowing for all the necessary articulation without oversimplifying things completely... I mean, how many TransFormers tanks have there been where the turret just ends up on the robot's back? Secondly, the legs and feet are just plain weird - the rod that runs up the middle of each shin serves no discernible purpose, since there's an ankle joint doing all the real work.

Each arm is on a weird L-shaped rod with the shoulder ratchet on the longest part, but it connects into the arm about midway down the upper section. This makes for some pretty unnatural movement of the arm versus the torso. With so much arm left above the shoulder joint, there's yet another joint within in the upper arm to allow it to move out without clashing with the torso and, with the arm already on a thin stalk, this looks extremely odd... But, hey, it works. The elbow joint is restricted to a 90° bend, but there is a rotation joint just above it, and the rather blocky forearms do at least allow for full wrist rotation. Megatron's waist can rotate freely, but the treads on his back have to be raised to give sufficient clearance. The legs have excellent range despite the crotch plate restricting their forward movement, but the knees don't quite make even a 90° bend, and the feet only tilt upward - as a result of transformation - rather than downward, which would allow for firmer placement when the legs are extended at an angle. The hips feature a surprisingly good range of rotation, despite looking quite square, because the actual joint is set quite far back in the thigh, and there's a massive space between the part connected to the main hip joint and the top of the swivelling thigh. Even stranger, there's an ankle joint which would allow for tilt from side to side, if it weren't for the fact that design of the feet means their own raised sides render that joint almost entirely redundant. The head, meanwhile, has one joint at the base for rotation and a joint at the top of the neck to allow Megatron to look up and down... I'm not sure why they didn't just got with a ball joint to allow not only that movement, but a bit of side-to-side tilt as well. It also seems to me to raise his head a little too high on his already too high shoulders.

Combiner Wars Megatron has been quite a divisive figure - some people think it's the best Megatron evaaaar, some feel the legs let it down completely... Personally, I think it's OK, despite a rather flawed design. It's not a figure I'd recommend anyone rush out and buy but, for my money, this one is certainly superior to the weird Armada retooling. What I don't understand is why this is part of Combiner Wars, when there are no combination features other than the 'outdated technology' of Mini-Con ports. It almost feels as though it was going to be a 30th Anniversary figure - along with the Armada retooling, though it's a bit late for the 10th Anniversary of that, and a bit early for the 15th - but someone had the idea that packaging it in Combiner Wars livery was the better option.

Ultimately, this is a pretty decent representation of Megatron, equal parts glittering nostalgia and clever, if underachieving, contemporary design. There's a certain ingenuity to the execution, however flawed the end result, and I certainly recognise and respect the effort that went into it. This isn't the ultimate Megatron... but it's simpler and more robust than the Masterpiece, and a better Classics Megatron than both the nine-year-old Nerf gun and its tank-based Deluxe contemporary. It might have been on a par with the 'Thrilling 30' Stealth jet had that been in a larger size class so, as it stands, it kind of wins by default. As far as I can tell, the only differences between this and the Takara Tomy version are that the latter replaces most of the red plastic parts with a more fitting grey... but that doesn't tip the scales in its favour once the import premium is taken into account.

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